X's and O's

I'll be honest, I'm on the fence when it comes to Valentine's Day.

On one hand, I sympathize with the Valentine Scrooges of the world who say bah humbug to pink and red, bows and frills, chocolates, roses and dinners out. The ones who see tic tac toe—not hugs and kisses—in the X's and O's.

That said, it's important to acknowledge the ones you love. Arguably it should be a daily ritual of small gestures and not an annual flurry of food, wine and sappy sentiment, but we can all use a good kick in the pants to keep us on track.

I like to think of Valentine's Day as a little nudge, a friendly reminder to be good to the people in your life.

Failing that, just eat pink-frosted cupcakes and call it a day.

Vanilla Butter Cakes with Strawberry Buttercream

2 eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup yogurt or sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup superfine (berry) sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 16 muffin tins with paper cups, or set out 16 silicone muffin cups on a baking sheet.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, 3 tablespoons of the yogurt or sour cream, and the vanilla just until combined.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the butter and remaining yogurt or sour cream and mix on low until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 1 1/2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Add the egg mixture in 2 parts, beating on medium speed for 30 seconds after each addition.

Fill the muffin cups about 3/4 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Cool the cupcakes in/on the pan for 10 minutes, before moving to a rack to cool completely before frosting.

3 egg yolks
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons superfine (berry) sugar
1/4 golden syrup
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup strawberries, fresh or frozen

In a blender, puree the strawberries until smooth. Strain through a fine sieve to remove seeds, pressing the pulp to get all of the juice out. Set aside. Note: If you're using frozen strawberries, defrost and drain them first.

In a medium heatproof bowl, beat the yolks on high speed with electric beaters until light in colour. Set aside.

Lightly grease a heatproof glass measuring cup (1 cup volume) and set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, golden syrup and lemon juice. Stir the sugar until moistened. Heat over medium-high, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup begins to bubble around the edges. Stop stirring completely and continue cooking for a few minutes until the syrup comes to a rolling boil (i.e., the entire surface is covered in large bubbles). Immediately transfer the syrup to the glass measuring cup to stop the boiling.

Add a very small amount of syrup to the egg yolks and immediately beat on high speed for 5 seconds. Add the rest of the syrup in a thin steady stream, beating continuously on medium-high speed. Don't let the syrup fall on the beaters or they will spin it onto the sides of the bowl, where it will harden! Continue beating on high for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.

When the outside of the bowl feels cool, beat in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time on medium-high speed. The buttercream will not thicken until almost all of the butter has been added. Add the strawberry puree, 1 teaspoon at a time, until the desired consistency and/or flavour is reached.

Note: A few things to keep in mind: My cupcakes were quite dense, especially compared to the fluffy buttercream. The strawberry flavour is also fairly subtle. A concentrated strawberry paste would amp up the intensity considerably.

Source: Yellow Butter Cakes and Golden Neoclassic Buttercream (adapted) in Rose's Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum, pp. 295, 299-300.